Bonding with baby requires adult to step aside and up
Q: My husband's ex just had a baby, making me one of the few stepmothers who get to start from scratch. Because of this rare opportunity, I would like to hope we have a chance at a relationship most stepchildren don't have with their stepparents. I would like the baby to call me "Mom" instead of "Kelly" and to view me as a third parent, not an interloper.
However, the current custody arrangement is tilted severely in the ex's favor, because she is breast-feeding. I think I will lose this special opportunity if we don't get to spend any time with the baby till she's a toddler. Should I urge my husband to petition for split custody?
A: What, so you can rip the breast out of the baby's mouth?
If you want to be a "third parent" to this child, then you need to do the one thing that makes you a real parent, vs. the grownup who occupies the same space as the kid: You need to think in terms of what's best for the child.
"What's best for the child" is not black-and-white; maybe stepping back and giving the baby a chance to bond with actual Mom isn't a slam-dunk as the best thing for the baby (because, for one thing, not all mothers are good mothers). But you at least have to consider that it's the best thing — and that attempting to get closer to the baby by antagonizing her mom might be the worst possible thing.
You have to scrutinize any thought you think, any idea you get, and any move you make — you have to scrutinize yourself — for flaws, frailties, selfish motives. If you're unwilling to question whether you're wrong, then there's little chance you'll be right.
I believe this applies universally, but it's particularly true, and the consequences are particularly cruel, when there are small children involved.
Once you have stripped your motives of all their protective rationalizations, the next thing you need to do is stop seeing "Get close to Baby" as a zero-sum proposition.
Babies may bond with caregivers, but so do toddlers. Even if you came in a year or two "late" (which you won't), that doesn't relegate you to some second tier of parental value. Make no mistake: You occupy the tier you earn, through your love, your presence and — there it is again — your ability to get over yourself and think in terms of the child's best interests.
It has nothing to do with the title; I've seen too many "Moms" whose children have severed ties with them in disgust, just as I've seen full-hearted devotion to the guardian who goes by "Kelly." That's when "Kelly" is liberal with affection; judicious and consistent with limits; generous with her time; well-stocked with patience and forgiveness; respectful of the child's humanity; sincere with apologies when she falls short on any of these, as even the best of people will; and mindful of where her ego doesn't belong.
If you've got these, you'll make the best of this "rare opportunity," regardless of when your parental clock starts ticking. And if you're respectful of this little baby's mother, then she's more likely to start that clock sooner. Impatience crashes the gate (and usually gets thrown out) where grace gets invited in.